Murray, Boyd put aside friendship for chance at greatness

George Whitfield was convinced Aaron Murray was going to head back to Athens early.

The smell of cow waste from a nearby field and the stench from a factory down the road wafted over the Norman North High School practice field in the 40-degree, early March weather in Oklahoma.

The quarterback guru approached Murray on Day Two of their spring break training to apologize.

“’Are you kidding?’” Whitfield recalled the Georgia signal caller saying. “’If this is going to help me, help us take this next step, I’m in. … We were five yards away last year. … I got to do everything humanly possible to get us back.’”

As they sat on the bench, Whitfield’s idea of Murray escaping for warmer climates and a relaxing vacation became an afterthought.

“That just told me everything I needed to know at that point,” Whitfield said.

***

George Whitfield watched Tajh Boyd transition from mentor to mentee.

The Clemson quarterback picked the brains of Andrew Luck — 2012’s No. 1 NFL draft pick — and Landry Jones — fourth-round pick in 2013 — during spring break training in 2012.

At breakfast. At lunch. During workouts. After workouts. Boyd wanted to bend the ears of the Stanford and Oklahoma quarterbacks as often as possible, trying to obtain as much information as possible.

He had just come off a 10-4 season. But he could do more.

Clemson’s 2012 record (11-2) was more.

And spring break training this year called for Boyd’s ear to be bent.

Georgia Tech’s Vad Lee and Southern Cal’s Max Wittek were on Boyd at breakfast, at lunch, during workouts and after workouts.

“It’s really cool how you watch the roles change and just to watch him kind of mentor them,” Whitfield said.

***

George Whitfield almost facilitated something that likely would have sent shock waves through the fan bases of Georgia and Clemson.

Aaron Murray and Tajh Boyd wanted to workout together — and with Whitfield — over spring break.

“Aaron called, Tajh called probably within three days of each other [in February],” Whitfield said, “and I said, ‘You guys work it out. Let me know what week that is and we’ll go to work.’”

No dice.

Georgia’s break fell a week earlier than Clemson’s.

The idea was a mark of their respect for one another, Whitfield says.

“I thought that was a pretty cool concept,” he said.

The two have known each other for five years. They were teammates on the 2009 Army All-American squad, Elite 11 counselors together in 2011 and they text and touch base with each other frequently.

But neither mentioned the other during their training with Whitfield in March. No updates. No curiosity.

They were with Whitfield to work on their own games, not worry about what areas the other guy needed to work on.

About on par with how their friendship has been to date.

“We really don’t talk too much about football,” Murray said. “It’s more just catch-up and seeing how each other is doing.”

***

George Whitfield knows a little something about Aaron Murray and Tajh Boyd.

Type-A. Alphas. Natural leaders. Effective managers. High expectations.

You can pick up a lot when all you do is evaluate and coach quarterbacks.

“They both thoroughly accept responsibility put on them,” said Whitfield, who runs Whitfield Athletix out of San Diego.

The 6-foot-1, 208-pound Murray has been the face of Georgia’s football program since 2010. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Boyd elevated Clemson with one fourth-and-16 conversion and 25-24 win over LSU in last year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Both surpassed 3,800-yards passing last season and threw more than 30 touchdowns. The families of both quarterbacks have been close by throughout their careers. Both have used the phrase “mid-season form” to describe the preparation they have done for the season opener.

“They’re about the same size and they’ve made big-time throws and big-time plays. They make everybody else around them better,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “… They’re both consistent and get better and better.”

Both have set multiple school records. Both have said individual records don’t mean much. Both are winless against South Carolina.

“Two guys that are very accomplished, played a bunch of games, won a bunch of big games, lost some big games, too,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “[They are] guys that have complete control of their offensive systems and complete respect of their coaching staff and their team and their fan bases. It ought to be interesting. If you’re looking for a subplot, that’s a pretty good one.”

But both can’t open this season 1-0.

***

George Whitfield has never been this excited for a college football game.

That’s a big statement coming from a guy who has trained Johnny Manziel. Whitfield paced around his basement’s rec room throughout Texas A&M’s stunning victory over Alabama last season. He was in the stands at Cowboys Stadium when Manziel’s performance in the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma overran his stat sheet.

But this game, this top-10 matchup between Georgia and Clemson is different.

Murray and Boyd have been the crucial cog in the machines as their programs have piled on wins while eliminating losses in the last three seasons. Both Georgia and Clemson compiled 6-7 records in 2010, 10-4 records in 2011 and added more wins in 2012 — Georgia at 12-2 and Clemson at 11-2.

And now?

“Irony is, for each of them to get to where they really want to be and deserve to be, they have to go through each other,” Whitfield said. “And it’s the season opener, too.”

Murray and Boyd hadn’t spoken yet in the early part of the week. But that was likely to change as the countdown clocks at both facilities ticked closer to 00:00.

“We’re both excited about the game,” Murray said Tuesday. “When we talk, we really don’t talk too much about the game. We’ll only bring it up for a second, just talk about how excited we are for the opportunity.”

Whitfield will see the Boyd family in the morning before greeting the Murray clan in the afternoon. He’s been in communication with both throughout the week, and will give both quarterbacks one last pep talk before they talk the field.

And he’ll be rooting for both offenses all four quarters.

“I just hope that they both have terrific performances,” Whitfield said. “I think that’s a guarantee.”

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